Our Mission

 

The Underground Scholars Initiative, also known as USI, creates a pathway for formerly incarcerated and system impacted individuals into higher education. We are building a prison-to-school pipeline through recruitment, retention, and advocacy. Our continued success directly challenges the stigmas associated with our population.

USI challenges societal norms concerning incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, specifically students impacted by issues of mass incarceration, imprisonment, and detainment of any kind. The goal of USI is to bridge the popular academic theoretical discourse of mass incarceration with one that is grounded in the lived experiences of UC Berkeley students and people from surrounding communities. We aim to shift the School-to-Prison pipeline to a Prison-to-School pipeline using higher education as an alternative to incarceration.

We provide students with a variety of academic and co-curricular support that are essential to achieving their academic, professional and personal goals.  Committed to current and prospective formerly and directly impacted students, USI programs fall into three broad strategies: 1) Recruitment, 2) Retention, 3) Advocacy and Policy.

 

Our History

 

The Underground Scholars Initiative (USI) is a grassroots effort created by UC Berkeley students who have been directly impacted by the Prison Industrial Complex, including those formerly incarcerated people or with incarcerated family members. USI is now part of UC Berkeley’s Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence (CE3). The Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence ensure non-traditional students excel at the top public University in the world. By respecting every undergraduate as a unique individual, CE3 programs empower UC Berkeley students to achieve and lead.

 

Our Staff

Violeta Alvarez

Executive Director